Essential Oil of the Month and The Most Expensive in the World: Eagle Wood/Agarwood!

Via Terra D’Aroma

Laos: the most expensive essential oil in the world, eagle wood

By Catherine 15 juin 2010


Names:  Eagle Wood, Oud, Agarwood, Heart Wood, Gahura, Jinko, Aloes Wood, Aoud, Kiara and more.


For a while I had contemplated going to Laos; then the project fell out because the contact person did not materialize. However, when I was staying in the Vietnamese plantations, Cuong mentioned Christopher, a Swiss who produces the most expensive essential oil in the world, namely eagle wood. I had never heard of this oil, so I wanted to know more and got in touch with Christopher, who agreed to meet me and explain about his job and this mysterious oil.

I chose to cross the border north of Vietnam, which made it possible to stop at Sapa, a place known for its magnificent landscapes an dits ethnic minorities. After two days I headed early for Dien Bien Phu, the town that lies closest to the Laos border, boarding a mini-van with some Vietnamese, four English and two Australian people. This was the beginning of a three day jopurney in most uncomfortable coaches and vans and trucks. I had time for a couple of hurs sleep in a small hotel and off we were at dawn. I had been warned that Laos is much less organized than Vietnam and that you need a lot of patience. I can only agree! After trudging in the mud for over a kilometer to reach the Laos border post, we had to wait for four hours until road workers had cleared a road that had slid off. When we finally hit the road again we realized that we were 45 minutes away from our destination.

So, after three days, I eventually reached Udomxai, the town with Christopher’s plantations. An old army jeep was waiting for me at the coad station. We had to drive another hour on a dirt road to reach the plantations of eaglewood. You have to know that this essential oil does not exist as such in the trees. It only appear when they are damaged, either by insects, or lightning, or by rubbing against another tree. To obtain a quality oil, you sometimes have to maintain the infection for several years. Then the tree will be cut and its wood distilled for several days. Parts of the tree are also used to make incense sticks or are burned at religious rituals. This oil is mainly sold to Middle East countries and is used as perfume. Over the last years its quality and return have gone down. Christopher told me that i twas doomed to disappear. To forestall this outcome, producers have started infecting trees themselves. They inject a natural mixture with plants and honey. Even so return is still falling steeply.

After visiting the plantations, I spent a few days in Vientiane to meet people. Then I went south, near the Vietnamese border, to visit Keo’s plantation, a Laotian who has worked in this field for over twenty years. There I could attend the maintenance of plantations. Weeds are removed so that eaglewood trees can grow in optimal conditions. I also attended the trimming and cleaning of wood before distilling. I was even fortunate enough to attend a transaction. Indeed Keo has his own plantations but he also buys wood from peasants in the nighbourhood. My anthropological training was intrigued by the micro-society that has developed around the eagle wood production. Keo and about ten workers live on the spot, share their meals and sleep a few yards away from where they clean the wood. Living conditions are much more precarious than in the Vietnamese plantations. There is less privacy and no running water. Workers wash in a stream near the distillery. This being said, this is current practice in Laos. During my various bus trips, I often saw men and women in saris washing along the road. This is indeed one of the first pictures I visualize when I think of Laos.


Essential oils are the oils from the plants they were extracted from in concentrated form. Essential oils have been used in skincare, folk and alternative medicine, aromatherapy, cosmetics, soaps, perfumes, foods and drinks for centuries.

One of the reasons for the relative rarity and high cost of  eagle wood is the depletion of the wild resource.  The odor of eagle wood is complex and pleasing, with few or no similar natural analogues. As a result, eagle wood and its essential oil gained great cultural and religious significance in ancient civilizations around the world, being mentioned throughout one of the world’s oldest written texts – the Sanskrit Vedas from India.  There are fifteen species in the genus Aquilaria and eight are known to produce eagle wood.  Formation occurs in the trunk and roots of trees that have been infected by a parasitic ascomycetous mold, Phaeoacremonium parasitica, a dematiaceous (dark-walled) fungus. As a response, the tree produces a resin high in volatile organic compounds that aids in suppressing or retarding the fungal growth, a process called tylosis. In natural forest only about 7% of the trees are infected by the fungus. A common method in artificial forestry is to inoculate all the trees with the fungus.

The three main uses for eagle wood are:  medicine, incense, and perfume.  First-grade wood is one of the most expensive natural products in the world, with prices of up to $13,000 per pound (thirteen thousand US dollars per 16 ounces!) for top quality wood. The essential oil from wild trees is likewise one of the most expensive oils in the world. The wholesale price for a relatively decent quality oil is around $1000 to $1400 per ounce.  Considered an oil gifted with deeply mystical properties, it has been more commonly employed as a spiritual tonic and cleanser. Like all essential oils, however, when used it produces positive curative effects. It owns warming, grounding and purifying qualities, and can induce deep states of relaxation, lift depression, and lighten insomnia. It supports respiratory complaints, including bronchial spasms, shortness of breath, and lung issues. is burned as sacred incense in temples, and used in numerous Ayurvedic, Tibetan, and Chinese herbal preparations. Buddhists use it for transmutation of ignorance. Tibetan monks use it to bring energy to calm the mind and spirit. The Sufis and Japanese Shaman use the oil in their esoteric ceremonies. It is said to enhance mental clarity, open the third eye and all of the upper chakras while calming the entire system.  It is said that prayers arise with the fragrant smoke of  eagle wood incense carry the prayer to the Creator.  It is considered by some to be a potent aphrodisiac oil.

Non-toxic, non-irritant and non-sensitizing. Do not take the essential oil internally.

Essential Oil should not be applied directly to the skin but in carrier oils, putting the oils directly on the skin is too harsh due to their concentrated form. Add a few drops of eagle wood essential oil to the carrier oil.

If you are pregnant, receiving cancer treatment, or have a weakened immune system the use of essential oils is not recommended!

While essential oil will not go rancid, carrier oils can. Store your carrier oils in a cool, dry, and dark place.


While I’ve attempted to use credible sources for information, this is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment. If there is a disparity between the information presented within this blog and the advice given by your medical professional, please follow the medical professional’s advice as he/she will know you and your medical circumstances.


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